Learning to sail is more than learning a new skill, it also has its own language. Understanding sailing terminology is essential for efficient communication on board. Below is a list of the most common sailing terms and what they mean, which will help both RYA Day Skippers and RYA Competent crew learn the ropes.
Sailing Terminology for the boat
Bow The front of the boat
Stern The back of the boat
Port The left hand side of the boat as you face the bow
Starboard The right hand side of the boat as you face the bow
Galley The term for the kitchen is on a boat
Heads The term for the toilet is on a boat
Companionway The steps leading from above deck to below decks
Cabins The bedrooms on a boat
Forepeak The cabin at the bow of the boat
Saloon The living area in the middle of the boat
Lazerette The locker for storing items on a boat.
Sailing Terminology for the sails
Jib The sail at the front of the boat and is normally the smaller of the two sails
Main The sail in the middle of the boat and is normally the larger of the two
Spinnaker An additional sail used when racing or if the wind is behind the boat.
Sailing Terminology for ropes
Halyards Used to raise or hoist the sails. Commonly used with the type of sail that is to be
raised, e.g. jib halyard
Sheets Used to control the sails once they are hoisted. Commonly used with the type of sail
that is to be controlled, e.g. main sheet
Warps Are use when securing the boat to a pontoon or mooring buoy
Lines The name given to other ropes that are not sheets, halyards or warps.
Sailing Terminology for fixture and fittings
Mast The long vertical spar that the main sail is hoisted up
Boom The horizontal spar attached to the mast that the main sail is attached to
Kicking Strap Holds the boom down
Clutches Are used to hold halyards. A halyard can be raised through a clutch without it being
opened, but must opened to let it down again
Jamming cleats Are similar to clutches but are used on lines that need to be realised quickly for
example, the kicking strap
Cleats Are primarily used to secure mooring warps when alongside a pontoon.
Sailing Terminology for sailing terms
Trim In To pull in a sheet. Commonly used with the type of sheet that needs to be trimmed
in for example, “trim in the jib”
Ease Out To loosen a sheet. Commonly used with the type of sheet that need to be eased out
for example, “ease out the main”
Luffing up Turning the boat towards the wind, this means that the jib and main will need to be
trimmed in. Also known as ‘hardening up’
Bearing away Turning the boat away from the wind, this means the main and jib will need to be
Tacking Turning the bow of the boat through the wind, swapping both sails to the opposite
side of the boat
Gybing Turning the stern of the boat through the wind, swapping both sails to the opposite
side of the boat.
There may be variations on the terms above, used by different skippers on different boat. If you have not heard of a specific term before then ask your skipper what they mean.